Primary school 'costing parents £6,000' according to new research - here's 6 ways to save money

The seven years of primary school can cost parents thousands of pounds, with lunches and school uniforms the biggest challenges. But there are ways savvy parents can ease the pressure of the financial burden

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Primary school costs parents more than £6,000 per child, according to new research, but there are ways that parents can keep these costs as low as possible.

High living costs over the last few years have stretched family budgets more than ever before. Average childcare costs are rising, school holidays cost parents more than £3,000 per year, and parents with school age children are scrambling for ways to save on back to school costs.

And now research from TigerTags has found that the expenses parents face for getting their kids through primary school - including packed lunches, uniform and school trips - can exceed £6,000 on average by the time your child leaves year six. Let's take a look at the breakdown of those costs:

  • School Dinners (190 days at £2.30 per day): £437 per year, £3,059 over seven years (source)
  • Packed Lunches (190 days at £2.73 per day): £518.70 per year, £3,630 over seven years (source)
  • School Trips (2 per year at £36.63 each): £73.26 per year, £512.82 over seven years (source)
  • Uniforms: £287 per year, £2,009 over seven years (source)
  • School Bag (1 per year at £25): £25 per year, £175 over seven years (source)

If you opt for packed lunches, the average costs work out as £6,326 over the course of seven years of primary school. That's the same as about £904 per year. Those who opt for school dinners will pay a little bit less, with average costs working out at £5,755.82 in total, or £822 per year. If you want to swap the type of lunch your child has while they are at school, make sure you read out comparison of school dinners versus packed lunches.

The challenge of school uniform costs

The data shows that school uniform is a challenging expense for a lot of families too. According to a recent report, the most common support activities reported by schools include providing uniforms and clothing to pupils. The report also found that 40 per cent of primary teachers have observed an increase in the number of pupils coming to school without adequate clothing, including proper uniforms or winter coats and shoes. This figure has risen from 12 per cent in 2023.

But there are ways to ease the cost burden of school uniforms as Sonja Adams, founder of TigerTags, explains:

  • Buy second hand uniforms: Sinja explains: “Many schools have second-hand shops where uniforms can be bought at a fraction of the cost. These shops offer used uniforms that are often in excellent condition and by purchasing from these shops, parents can save significantly compared to buying new items. This not only helps reduce expenses but also promotes sustainability by recycling clothing."
  • Set up a uniform swap: “Parents can organise uniform swaps through Facebook groups or the school PTA to exchange uniforms that their children have outgrown. It’s a cost-effective way to refresh a child’s wardrobe without spending money."
  • See if you qualify for a school uniform grant: “It’s a good idea to check your eligibility for government grants that help cover uniform costs as they can provide substantial financial relief. Many local authorities offer grants to support low-income families with school uniform expenses."
  • Try buying a size bigger to make it last longer: “I always used to buy my son’s uniform a size bigger, to help it last longer. There are loads of options now for clothing with adjustable waistbands and skirts with elastic that can also accommodate growth spurts, helping you avoid repurchasing the next size too soon."
  • Try some simple maintenance: “Using labels on all your children’s clothing and even items like bags and shoes can mean the difference in more months' wear or them becoming lost property forever. I’d also recommend learning basic sewing skills for minor repairs, such as fixing hems and replacing buttons, which can extend the life of uniforms. And lastly, encouraging children to change out of their uniforms immediately after school can reduce wear and tear, allowing items to be reworn more often before needing to be replaced.”
  • Look out for school uniform sales: It's also worth keeping your eyes peeled for retailers putting school uniform essentials on sale so you can stock up for a fraction of the price. The M&S school uniform sale is now on, and supermarkets like Tesco, Sainsburys, Asda and Aldi regularly have uniform bargains up for grabs so keep your eyes peeled.

Once your child has outgrown their uniform, you can also try these ways to turn that into cash to put towards any new items you need to buy. To keep costs as low as possible, it's also worth checking whether your child is eligible for free school meals too.

Consumer Writer & Money Editor, GoodtoKnow

Sarah is GoodtoKnow’s Consumer Writer & Money Editor - which means she writes about everything from this year's top toys and the newest toy releases, to discounts on days out and childcare costs. Sarah is passionate about helping mums save money wherever they can - whether that's spending wisely on the right toys and kidswear or keeping on top of the latest news around child benefit, the motherhood penalty. A writer, journalist and editor with more than 15 years' experience, Sarah is all about the latest toy trends and is always on the look out for toys for her nephew or Goddaughters so that she remains one of their favourite grown ups. When not writing about money or best buys, Sarah can be found hanging out with her rockstar dog Pepsi, getting opinionated about a movie or learning British Sign Language.